Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Great Porn Debate

Last Wednesday, that legend of the not-so-silver screen, Ron Jeremy, came to UMSL for a debate on pornography with XXXChurch co-founder Craig Gross. For those not familiar with those names, Ron Jeremy is a porn star with thousands of "movies" to his name, while XXXChurch is an organization devoted to porn, either helping men to break their addiction to it or helping those in the industry leave it.

I'd wanted to go, but sadly it took place entirely during the class I teach on Wednesday nights. So, just as you'll have to, I had to suffice for The Current's article about it.

I wouldn't have thought Jeremy to be the philosophical type, so I wasn't expecting much. I don't think my expectations were entirely inaccurate; while he seems to have offered up some interesting arguments, it doesn't seem like anything new or particularly compelling. But then, I'm already fairly biased, and most articles of this nature tend not to do justice to the debates.

Something interesting has been brewing in my mind regarding porn and proof that it harms the participants ever since I heard about the debate. One of the most easily quantifiable proofs of harm to participants would be from STDs. I know California requires anybody participating in pornography to use a condom and be tested for STDs regularly, and I imagine that it's fairly standard for the industry either way. Still, there's a curveball in there I've been mulling over lately.

HPV.

Not the traditional "cauliflower penis" variety, but the cervical cancer-causing strains. I'm sure I'm misinformed somewhere in here, but here's what I think I know about the disease:
  • It can be transmitted without showing symptoms
  • It can only be tested for after symptoms have appeared in women
  • There is no test for it in men, currently
In addition, I would add that condoms are of questionable efficacy in preventing transmission, but I'm uncertain about that mark. A lot of the articles I've seen on HPV lump the wart and cancer causing strains in together, and it seems like they would behave slightly differently when it comes to transmission. Can condoms prevent transmission? Can it be spread via oral sex? I'm uncertain, but so far as I've seen, the answers seem to be "maybe not" and "yes."

Anyhow, the point of this is to point out a big danger such a disease poses to people in pornography. Ron Jeremy probably has it, but he'll never be able to know for certain. For the women he gives it to, they'll never know they have it until it's too late to do anything about it, and in the meantime they are capable of spreading it around to others. On top of that, if condoms don't effectively protect against it, then there's no safe way to be in porn and avoid it.

Which, if you've read my paper on pornography and the First Amendment, this seems like causus belli (is that right?) for making pornography illegal; speech that causes direct harm is not protected by the First Amendment.

Of course, I welcome comments on this. I more than likely have things wrong on some count here, but I'm curious where people think I actually did go wrong.

8 comments:

-Murphy said...

The speech doesn't cause harm, though, at least not to anyone who sees it (strictly in the sense of giving them HPV. I'm leaving psychology entirely out of it. The psychological arguments haven't been changed by what you've posited here). When you talk about speech which causes harm, you're talking about things like "Let's go kill that guy" or "I'm going to incite a panic now", from my understanding.

There's harm that could be incidental to the speech, but that same harm that comes from individuals choosing to have sex when there aren't cameras present. So long as everyone who is choosing to participate in the pornographic film industry is doing so from an informed position and of their own free will, how would outlawing it on the basis of the possibility of the spread of HPV be different than outlawing sex between individuals in the general public?

Hal said...

Some thoughts, Ryan:

1) Sex between individuals in private is not a free speech issue. Pornography is. Statutes making pornography illegal have always been diluted or knocked down by reference to the first amendment and freedom of speech. Sex between individuals in private falls under the fourth amendment (IIRC), which comes with a much different set of factors for legality.

2) It IS a crime to knowingly pass on an STD to another person (again, IIRC). So, while it's impossible as of yet to verify whether a man has certain strains of HPV, one could argue that this ambiguity is akin to knowingly exposing someone to an STD.

You ARE right in that this does have the unfortunate drawback of implying that all men who aren't virgins are criminals if they have sex with someone because they could be spreading HPV. It's a consequence of the legal precedents, I would say. I suspect that it might actually come up in a court of law in the next few years, actually. Some young lady has sex with an oldaboy and later ends up with signs of HPV. She ends up suing him in court . . . what will be the outcome? I couldn't say, but I'm willing to bet it'll happen soon enough.

-Murphy said...

1) Sex between individuals in private is not a free speech issue. Pornography is. Statutes making pornography illegal have always been diluted or knocked down by reference to the first amendment and freedom of speech. Sex between individuals in private falls under the fourth amendment (IIRC), which comes with a much different set of factors for legality.

Pornography is a free speech issue. The spread of HPV among people who participate in pornographic films, however, is not. Your argument seems to me to be that because people who act in pornographic movies are exposing themselves to the possibility of infection that this somehow constitutes "speech which causes harm." It doesn't. It's an issue of personal liberty tied in with a seperate issue of free speech.

It's speech, and it might cause harm (to some participating, but not the audience), but it's not "speech which causes harm."

2) It IS a crime to knowingly pass on an STD to another person (again, IIRC). So, while it's impossible as of yet to verify whether a man has certain strains of HPV, one could argue that this ambiguity is akin to knowingly exposing someone to an STD.

You ARE right in that this does have the unfortunate drawback of implying that all men who aren't virgins are criminals if they have sex with someone because they could be spreading HPV.


So how does this differ from wanting to ban sex outright?

Hal said...

First, I want to note that I shake my head at you, sir. I have to write about pornography to get you commenting again? What a load.

It's speech, and it might cause harm (to some participating, but not the audience), but it's not "speech which causes harm."

Is there a difference in the legal precedent? I couldn't say. But when we say that speech which causes harm is not protected, does that apply to harm only caused to the audience or incidental participants? Or does it also apply to the speech makers as well? If it doesn't apply to them, why shouldn't it?

This actually makes me think about that Tibetan monk who self-immolated as a protest. Protected free speech? I don't recall any of the details surrounding it.

So how does this differ from wanting to ban sex outright?

Good question. Note that I'm not actually advocating such. What I'm saying, so far, is that the legal precedents seem to indicate that pornography would constitute a speech which causes harm. The unfortunate implication is that the legal precedents also lead to the conclusion you've reached as well. I think it's a problem of the legal system having not yet caught up to the current medical knowledge.

I guess the logical question is, based on these arguments so far, why should pornography be illegal but not sex in general? I haven't thought that far in advance just yet, so I'm afraid you'll have to wait for a decent answer. Feel free to proffer any ideas which come to you.

-Murphy said...

First, I want to note that I shake my head at you, sir. I have to write about pornography to get you commenting again? What a load.

:D

I commented about the green Santa.

Protected free speech? I don't recall any of the details surrounding it.

Well, Thich Quang Duc was in Vietnam, so I don't know. There was the anti-war protestor who self immolated in Chicago last year (Malachi Rischter), but then you start confusing "speech which causes harm to the speaker" with "attempted suicide", which is no longer considered a crime by any state (you also bring in something about how he's endangering his audience by lighting himself on fire on the Kennedy Expressway, but that just serves to further confuse the issue.)

What I'm saying, so far, is that the legal precedents seem to indicate that pornography would constitute a speech which causes harm.

It doesn't seem to me that the speech is what's causing harm.

Feel free to proffer any ideas which come to you.

The problem being that I don't think I think pornography should be illegal.

Anonymous said...

im not sure hpv and porn (seems like an if/then argument) belong in the same argument but i can see your point.

hpv can be spread via oral sex.
wearing a condom doesnt mean you wont pass it on. it passes with direct skin contact not body fluids.

the real fun part? you can have it for years and test negative for it and then all of a sudden wham! it shows up in a pap smear and can disappear too. sometimes your body can make antibodies to it just like it does with a flu virus depends what type you get. there's like 100 different types 4 of which are cancer causing in the cervix. it makes it tricky as to finding out who gave it to you after multiple partners.

get the vaccine before you have appointments every few months to see how far along the cancer cells are.

Anonymous said...

it's interesting that we have state laws that prohibit smoking in public places to defend the people who work in those places from carcinogens. And yet, as sir halbert has outlined, that same ideology does not carry through to protection of porn stars from hpv, another potential carcinogen.

Of course, none of this really matter since porn will never go away. there's too much money in it and if we know anything about politicians, they love that money.

-- brandon

Andy said...

Yeah, I'm not sure that the speech part of pornography can actually be connected to transmission of HPV. One doesn't (normally) contract HPV by watching a video.

I'm not very familiar with any of the legal pieces here, but I personally don't see harm to (willing) participants of a free speech proceeding to be caused by the speech. If a person damages their vocal cords while yelling at the top of their lungs in order to incite a riot, the riot is the harm, not the damage to the vocal cords, correct?

This is not to say that transmission of HPV during pornography production isn't harmful to those involved of course.